Many people who have survived an abusive relationship, whether the abuser is a family member or spouse, have been told they must forgive their abuser if they truly want to heal. It is often said like forgiveness is a magic wand – once you decide to forgive, you do, all damage caused by the abuse is gone, the abuser has an epiphany about their horrible behavior & abuser & victim live happily ever after. Sadly, this is absolutely NOT the case!
Forgiveness can be an absolutely wonderful thing. Unfortunately though the topic is misunderstood by so many, & the people who believe wrongly seem to be the loudest about the value of forgiveness.
To start with, forgiveness doesn’t mean forgive & forget. There are many Scriptures that mention forgiveness in the Bible, but nowhere is “forgive & forget” mentioned. In fact, I consider it to be a very un-biblical concept. Jesus says we are to be as wise as serpents yet innocent as doves in Matthew 10:16. Forgiving & forgetting to me seems completely unwise. If someone is abusive, then their victim forgives & forgets abusive incidents, the abuser readily will repeat their abusive behavior because they know there will be no consequences. However, if you give them consequences for their behavior, there is a much better chance of them changing. Clearly that isn’t always the case but it creates a much more likely scenario than forgiving & forgetting, & allowing them to abuse you repeatedly.
Many people think that forgiveness & reconciliation are the same thing, but clearly they are not! Luke 17:3-4 in the Amplified Bible say, “Pay attention and always be on guard [looking out for one another]! If your brother sins and disregards God’s precepts, solemnly warn him; and if he repents and changes, forgive him. 14 Even if he sins against you seven times a day, and returns to you seven times and says, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him [that is, give up resentment and consider the offense recalled and annulled].” Notice how it states that the offending person repents, you are to forgive him. It doesn’t say you must forgive no matter what.
Many people who misunderstand Godly forgiveness are also quick to quote the part of Ephesians 4:26 that says not to let the sun go down on your anger. They quote only a small portion of the verse. In reality, it says, “Ephesians 4:26 “Be angry [at sin—at immorality, at injustice, at ungodly behavior], yet do not sin; do not let your anger [cause you shame, nor allow it to] last until the sun goes down.” According to this verse, anger is acceptable as long as you don’t allow it to motivate you to doing something shameful or sinful such as doing something vengeful to hurt the person who hurt you.
Another interesting point to consider about Ephesians 4:26. It shows what actions are acceptable reasons for feeling anger. Sin, immorality, injustice & ungodly behavior. There should never be a point in a person’s life that such things don’t make them angry! Feeling neutral about them or accepting them would normalize some pretty terrible behavior that should not be normal under any circumstances. You can forgive a person while still being furious about the wicked & cruel things they have done to you. I can tell you that I have forgiven my parents, but I still despise the cruel things they did to me in my lifetime.
If someone tells you that you need to hurry up & forgive your abuser or even “forgive & forget,” then please disregard what they say. Forgive God’s way when you are ready to take that step. Don’t let anyone make you feel as if you aren’t forgiving fast enough, as doing that can slow down the healing process. Take the step when you feel ready to do so & only then. And, never forget that you are always going to feel some anger at what was done to you because it was wrong. There is absolutely nothing wrong with feeling that way! It’s a healthy way to feel & yes, even a Christian way to feel!